Sunday, April 15

Heat warnings, DNS, and DNF

By now, you've probably heard that the Boston Athletic Association is encouraging runners to take things easy, walk, or sit tomorrow's race out due to predicted record temperatures. (For more info see Miss Zippy and Will Run for Beer.)

I am a strong believer that runners train to race through tough conditions. After all, as one of my favorite race-day posters reads "If it was easy, everyone would do it."


Each race has its own unique circumstances and conditions. Expecting a PR when running into 20mph headwinds is just silly. Expecting that the heat won't affect your race is borderline dangerous, even if you have been training in the heat.
Treating heat illness
Image source
Our sport glorifies those who push through tough circumstances. After all, if we don't push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, we'll never improve. But there is a fine line between exceptional performance and stupid risk-taking. So... the spirit of full disclosure, I have DNFed, and it's OK.

After training for a year for a triathlon in Encinitas, CA, including many hours of swim workouts, I thought I was ready for anything. Unfortunately on race morning the surf was 8-10 feet with a strong rip current.

I watched the first wave (elites) get dragged 400 yards off course. Still, I got into the water.

I got pummeled and dragged off course by the current. I was not making headway against the surf.

I turned and paddled back in to shore. I had an official cut off my timing chip. I finished the bike and run as a fun run. I won't say I'm proud of my DNF, but I am proud that I was wise enough to know my limits that day.

I also have one race that I DNSed.

Another triathlon was scheduled in the autumn. San Diego had gone more than 180 days without rain. On the day before the race, the heavens opened up, washing 6 months of trash, dog poo, and other unmentionables into the bay.

While the County had officially closed all waters to swimming, the race organizers chose not to turn the race into a duathlon. The swim was on, despite all health regulations to the contrary.
I was not getting in that water.
I slept in.
Reading reports of sinus infections, sore throats, and other post-race ailments, I've never regretted the decision to not start that race.

And heat is my enemy in any race.

Northwest Florida is warm all the time.
When I run, it's hot outside.
My body, theoretically, is used to this.

Still, in this morning's half marathon, I suffered from heat illness. While I have no formal diagnosis, I can say that at about mile 11 I noticed I had stopped sweating (despite consuming two full bottles of water).

I threw in the towel and walked.

This wasn't a wussy move on my part. I knew the symptoms and made a calculated decision. And, it turns out, my on-the-fly diagnosis was pretty accurate. I took my temperature an hour after the race - 100 degrees - and that was after soaking in a cold bath.

So, the moral of this story is: if you are running in the heat, keep these symptoms in mind (from
  • Heatstroke - a life-threatening illness in which body temperature may rise above 106° F in minutes; symptoms include dry skin, rapid, strong pulse and dizziness
  • Heat exhaustion - an illness that can precede heatstroke; symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing and a fast, weak pulse
  • Heat cramps - muscle pains or spasms that happen during heavy exercise
  • Heat rash - skin irritation from excessive sweating

Walking might be an ego-bruiser, but being carted off the course in an ambulance is way worse.

Be safe, friends!

Have you ever DNSed or DNFed a race?


  1. You are so smart. Some people would continue until they were hospitalized and then claimed 'toughness'. Ummm...not so much.

    It's great that the Boston officials are allowing deferments...for those who feel the need, but I am a proponent of the notion that running is an outdoor sport and sometimes it's brutal in the out of doors. You just have to go with it ...or sit out. Know your body. Know your limits. You are one smart cookie.

  2. I DNS'ed two races, one because I had left my phone in my friend's car and was unable to set an alarm or find the race as I didn't have internet in my apartment. I also wasn't trained, so it was bit of a dual reason. I DNS'ed Disney's Goofy Challenge, the two day event because I had not trained well, nor could I afford the trip to Florida.

    I've never DNF'ed but I did walk half of a half marathon at Camp Pendelton when I started to experience some heat exhaustion symptoms. I considered dropping out, but just kept drinking water and took it easy instead.

  3. I have DNS'ed two races, both well in advance, because of injury.

    I have one DNF on record and it took a long time for me to forgive myself for it. Looking back, though, it's no wonder I couldn't finish. It was a new event/distance for me (Olympic duathlon) and it was my 4th race in 4 weeks (half-marathon, then 20k, then an 11k staircase challenge that was 6 days before the du). In addition to my legs giving up on me, the volunteers were cleaning up the course behind me as I was biking - that was the final straw for me.

  4. I have many DNTTT (did not try to train). It doesn't matter so much if you missone or two races in your lifetime, think of all of the events that you DID~stephanie

  5. You're totally right - knowing your limit is MUCH better than the alternative. Glad you are alright.

  6. Yikes, better not mess around with that business. Good to listen to yourself and not push it too far.


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